Criminal Behaviour Influenced by Environmental Causes and Genes
If there are genes for criminality, is it morally right to lock someone up because their DNA compels them to commit crimes? Should they be offered corrective therapy rather than punishment? It’s the age old debate – is it nature or nurture that makes someone a criminal? Are they just the product of their environment or totally at the mercy of their genes? The truth probably lies somewhere in between. It always seems, to me at least, that it is too simplistic to pin cause down to one and exclude the other when looking for an explanation of some behavioural traits. From a number of twins, family, adoption studies and lab work the evidence points to an interaction between genes and the environment.
Which one plays the most important role in determining the behaviour of an individual? The jury is still out on that one.
But let us, for the sake of this article imagine there are genes for criminal behaviour, however that behaviour is defined - whether it is violence, stealing, or a tendency for tax evasion. So are we justified in punishing someone with 'criminal genes'? I think the answer is straightforward - yes. You may disagree with me, but here are my reasons.
There is nothing in the scientific literature that says that genes diminish a person’s responsibility for their own behaviour or for how a person makes choices in their life.
If a person does possess a 'criminal gene' or marker, this will be a predisposition to behave in such a way. He or she would be inclined to act in a criminal way, not compelled to. This is no different from someone who grows up in an environment that might increase their chances of becoming a criminal. A person from an unfortunate background or someone with a genetic marker for criminality may find it more difficult than the general population to keep on the right side of the law, but neither is bound to behave in a criminal fashion.
As society does not absolve a criminal from responsibility for his crimes because of his upbringing, why should someone with a 'gene for criminality' be treated any differently?
Then there is this wonderful quote by University College London geneticist Prof Steve Jones: "90% of all murders are committed by people with a Y chromosome — males. Should we always give males a shorter sentence? I have low MAOA activity but I don't go around attacking people."